TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Call it serendipity, but a medical technician who cared for a veteran with an auto-immune disease is the first person at Travis Air Force Base, California, to receive the Disease Attacking Immune System Award.
Airman 1st Class Robert Chavez, 60th Medical Group, works in the in-patient surgical unit at David Grant USAF Medical Center. He was recognized in front of his unit Aug. 16 for assisting a patient with Guillain-Barre syndrome – a rare but serious auto-immune disorder that affects the nervous system. The patient also struggled with acute back spasms.
“These spasms were so fast-acting and painful that the patient would scream in agony while simultaneously having a panic attack,” said 1st Lt. Leigh Cannon, 60th MDG registered nurse in the same unit as Chavez.
“The patient was difficult to console, often taking 30 minutes to an hour to calm down … even with IV pain medications,” said Cannon, who nominated Chavez for the quarterly award.
During these attacks, Chavez sat with the patient, held his hand and calmly talked to him.
“The patient was here for three weeks and every shift that Airman Chavez worked, he would comfort this patient through each spasm,” said Cannon. “How the patient did not break Airman Chavez’s hand, I have no idea.”
The DAISY Award was created in January 2000 by the parents of J. Patrick Barnes, who died at age 33 from complications with an auto-immune disease. According to the DAISY Award Foundation, the award honors all nurses everywhere who demonstrate compassion, skill and care.
“I always knew I’d join the military,” said Chavez, who comes from a line of police officers.
“As a little kid, I played with toy soldiers, but my Mom steered me toward the Air Force,” he said. “Once I found out about the medical field, I knew this was the way to go. Being the youngest of five siblings teaches patience. I felt that was a good quality to bring to the (in-patient) floor.”
Although Chavez has been in the Air Force only two years, “He’s one of the best medical technicians I’ve ever worked with,” said Staff Sgt. Rachel Wright, 60th MDG inpatient surgical unit NCO in charge.
“We used to be on the same shift so I got to see his work,” she said. “Chavez is phenomenal. That’s who he is and how he operates all the time. That’s what makes it enjoyable to work with him.”
Chavez tried to work around his other responsibilities in the unit so he could be there when the patient had a spasm.
“He thanked me and told me that I was the first person to sit with him and help him that way,” said Chavez. “As much pain as I felt when he was squeezing my arm, I knew it was nothing compared to the pain he was feeling.”
More than 3,000 healthcare facilities across the nation and in 17 countries participate in the DAISY Award program, but DGMC became the first Air Force hospital in June to implement the international program.
Patients, family members and peers nominate the nurse or medical technician they consider the most skillful and compassionate. The medical center’s patient advocate board selects the award winner.
Honorees receive a certificate of appreciation, a pin and a hand-carved sculpture from Africa called “A Healer’s Touch.” The DAISY Foundation also publishes an article about the winner on its website.
More information about the program is available at the medical center’s information desks at the north and south entrances.